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date: 28 March 2017

Ugaritic and Biblical Literature

Summary and Keywords

The Ugaritic texts provide a rich resource for understanding the Late Bronze Age kingdom of Ugarit, located on the coast of Syria. The site has yielded about two thousand tablets in Ugaritic, the West Semitic language of this city-state, and about twenty-five hundred tablets in Akkadian, the lingua franca of the period, as well as many texts written in seven other languages. These reveal a cosmopolitan, commercial center operating in the shadow of two great powers of the eastern Mediterranean basin, the Egyptians and the Hittites.

The Ugaritic texts offer innumerable literary and religious parallels to biblical literature. The parallels are so rich and in some cases so specific that it is evident that the Ugaritic texts do not merely provide parallels, but belong to a shared or overlapping cultural matrix with the Hebrew Bible. Ugaritic literature may not predate the earliest biblical sources by much more than a few decades, but the bulk of biblical literature dates to centuries later. Moreover, unlike the coastal, cosmopolitan center of Ugarit, ancient Israel’s heartland lay in the rural inland hill-country considerably to the south in what is today Israel and occupied Palestinian territory. Despite these important differences, Ugaritic and biblical literature are not to be understood as representing entirely different cultures, but overlapping ones.

Keywords: Ugarit, Ugaritic, Ras Shamra, Canaan, Canaanite, Israel, El, Baal, Asherah, Anat, Astarte, Yahweh, parallelism

The Ugaritic texts, first discovered 1929, furnish a rich resource for understanding the kingdom of Late Bronze Age Ugarit, now called Ras Shamra (literally Cape Fennel), located on the north Syrian coast of the Mediterranean.1 Ugaritic was among the eight different languages and five different scripts attested at Ugarit.2 As the first texts were excavated, deciphered, and translated, it became clear that Ugaritic was a Semitic language like Phoenician and Hebrew. The site of Ugarit emerged as a polyglot and cosmopolitan port that included Hittites, Babylonians, Hurrians, and Egyptians, as well as Canaanites that lived to the south of Ugarit.

During the many seasons of excavation conducted at and near Ugarit since 1929, about two thousand Ugaritic texts have been found. Most are clay tablets, often damaged over the centuries. They include myths and legends, lists of gods and goddesses, sacrificial offerings and other rituals, diplomatic correspondence, legal records, remedies for horses’ ailments, lists of word equivalents in the various languages used in the city, and the oldest complete alphabet, with an order substantially the same as our own. The main myths and epics were found in the environs of the city’s temple district, and most had the same scribe, named Ilimilku. His clear, precise touch with reed on damp clay is unmistakable, and he occasionally signed his work in scribal notes called colophons at the end or on the side of a tablet. Ilimilku copied these texts under the aegis of the chief priest, subsidized by Niqmaddu, king of Ugarit, one of at least three kings of the city with that name. This Niqmaddu reigned in either the mid-14th century or the late 13th century bce.3

Unlike biblical literature, the Ugaritic texts show a wealth of narrative poetry, often called myths and epics4; a fair collection of rituals (cf. Leviticus); hundreds of administrative or economic lists (cf. the lists in Num. 13, Josh. 12, and 1 Kings 4); scribal exercises, some with the alphabet (cf. the abecedaries preserved in Hebrew inscriptions, as well as biblical poems arranged as alphabetic acrostics, such as Ps. 119 and 145, and Lam. 1, 2, 3, and 4). The Ugaritic texts are lacking in prose narratives and royal annals (like Genesis-Kings, Ezra-Nehemiah-Chronicles), prophetic texts (such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the minor prophets), collections of wisdom literature (such as Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, or Ben Sira), court tales (e.g., Gen. 39–48, Esther, Dan. 1–6) or apocalyptic (e.g., Dan. 7–12). They include some legal texts, but lack the sort of long, legal sections found in the Pentateuch (Exod. 21–23, Deut. 12–26). Love poetry5 and laments6, as well as curses, blessings, and vows7, are embedded in Ugaritic narrative texts (cf. poems incorporated in prose narrative in the Bible in Gen. 49; Exod. 15; Num. 21–24; Deut. 32 and 33; Josh. 10; Judg. 5; 1 Sam. 2; and 2 Sam. 1, 22, and 23). The Ugaritic corpus contains only a single example of a clear prayer (or more accurately, an instruction for prayer in case of a siege) as well as one clear hymn, though other texts have been considered hymns, in contrast to the many prayers, hymns, and other related genres in the books of Psalms and Lamentations.8 Overall the genres of the Hebrew Bible show more commonality with Mesopotamian literature, which is suggestive of their formation in the monarchic period and later.9 However, Ugaritic texts reflect the older background of the Hebrew Bible’s many literary and religious traditions; even the name of Israel appears to be attested in Ugaritic.10 The shared materials are mentioned in passing in the following survey of the genres of Ugaritic texts. Afterwards other features are addressed, specifically, language and poetry and Ugaritic and Israelite gods and goddesses.

The Genres of the Ugaritic Texts

The standard edition of the Ugaritic texts (abbreviated as KTU and listed in the "Primary Sources" section of this article) uses the following categories: literary and religious texts (KTU 1); letters (KTU 2); legal texts (KTU 3); economic texts (KTU 4); scribal exercises (KTU 5); inscriptions on seal, labels, ivories, and the like (KTU 6); unclassified texts (KTU 7); illegible tablets and uninscribed fragments (KTU 8); unpublished texts (KTU 9); and one possible Ugaritic text in syllabic script (KTU 10). KTU 1 also includes many Hurrian religious texts, as well as two Akkadian religious texts in cuneiform alphabetic writing, along with another text that has seven lines of Akkadian followed by another ten lines in Ugaritic. These sections are addressed in turn, except for KTU 7–9, as texts in the latter two categories furnish little information.

Literary Texts

The literary texts are characterized by poetic parallelism consisting mostly of two and three line units, as found in biblical poetry. Four sets of multi-tablet collections dominate the literary texts: (1) stories centered around the warrior storm-god, Baal (the Baal Cycle, KTU 1.1–1.3 + 1.8, 1.4–1.6); (2) episodes in the life of King Kirta (1.14–1.16); (3) the short life of the hero, Aqhat (1.17–1.19); and (4) the ancient deceased heroes, the Rephaim (1.20–1.22).

Shorter mythic texts narrate Baal’s fathering a bull (1.10); a birth involving several deities (1.11); Baal’s conflict with monstrous foes called the “Eaters” (1.12); the exaltation of the warrior goddess, Anat, for her military prowess (1.13); the birth, banishment, and inclusion of the dangerous “Goodly Gods,” sired by El and two unnamed females (1.23.30–76), following a series of ritual instructions (1.23.1–29); the wedding-song of Nikkal, the Mesopotamian moon-goddess, and Yarih, the Ugaritic moon-god (1.24); the binding of the monstrous tnn (1.83; cf. biblical “dragons” in Psalm 74:13 and “sea monsters” in Genesis 1:21); the hunt of the goddess Astarte, marked by a roiling of the cosmic “deep” (1.92; cf. “deep” in Genesis 1:2), perhaps followed by Baal’s (sexual?) encounter with the goddess; the cry of the cow on (or against) a mountain (1.93); the dangerous eye (or perhaps the goddess Anat, depending on an emendation of ‘nn to ‘nt) consuming “her brother’s flesh without a knife” and drinking “his blood without a cup” (1.96); a description of Baal (1.101); a description of a feast for the god, Rapiu (evidently the leader of the Rephaim; see below) and his companions (perhaps the Rephaim), as well as Anat (1.108), followed by a wish for blessing, perhaps for the king; El’s drunken feast and the goddesses’ hunt for ingredients for a cure (1.114.1–28), followed by a prescription for a hangover (1.114.29–31).11 One of the newer texts (1.180) contains a hymn to the goddess Astarte as leonine.12 The subject of some texts is unclear (e.g., 1.9, 1.25, 1.61-1.63, 1.75, 1.79, 1.81). At this point, we review the four, longer literary cycles, all reflecting heroic figures and themes.13

1. The Baal Cycle (KTU 1.1–1.6)

The longest Ugaritic text, the Baal Cycle, relates Baal’s attainment of divine kingship represented by the construction of his royal palace (1.3 III–1.4 VII), preceded by his conflict with the cosmic, personified Sea (Yamm) beforehand (1.1–1.3 II), and followed by his struggle with Death (Mot) personified (1.4 VIII–1.6).

In the fragmentary first tablet of the Baal Cycle (KTU 1.1), the patriarchal god El names Sea as divine champion (1.1 V–IV). El then summons the craftsman-god Kothar to build a palace, apparently for Yamm (1.1 III). El in turn summons Anat to desist from conflict (1.1 II). The second tablet is missing one column and most of a second. In the first clear column (1.2 I), Sea’s messengers come to the divine council headed by El, to demand the surrender of Baal, who stands at attention while the other deities of the divine assembly are enjoying a meal. The sight of Sea’s messengers inspires fear in the divine assembly, and El decrees that Baal is to become Sea’s servant. The scene breaks off with Baal’s resisting this decision and the warrior goddesses, Anat and Astarte, rebuking him.

The classic type scene of the divine council is represented in biblical literature in the vision of the prophet, Micaiah ben Imlah (1 Kings 22:19–23), who sees the host of heaven standing on either side of Yahweh. In Psalm 82, God stands in the divine council and accuses the other gods (see also Dan. 7). In divine council scenes, the head-god of the divine assembly typically commissions a member to carry out or announce the divine decree. In biblical, prophetic scenes, the prophet may be commissioned (see Isa. 6 and Ezek. 1–3; cf. the lying spirit in 1 Kings 22:20–23). In the Baal Cycle, a member of the council, such as Baal, might be expected to serve as the divine council’s champion against an enemy such as Sea. This is the situation with Marduk in the Akkadian Epic of Creation (Enuma Elish). Baal is instead handed over to Sea, showing his weak position at this point.

In the next clear column, KTU 1.2 IV, Baal resists the decision of the divine assembly by defeating Sea, thanks to the weapons made by Kothar. Powered by incantations pronounced over them by Kothar, they fly like powerful birds attacking Sea. (Similarly, in Ps. 74:13, Sea is one of Yahweh’s cosmic enemies—see also Ps. 89:9–11; Isa. 51:9–11; also Ps. 29). After his victory, Baal celebrates with a private feast (1.3 I), attended by his servant who sings and serves him a superhuman sized cup of alcohol that no woman, not even the goddess, Asherah, can see. Only at the end of the feast does any female presence intrude, when Baal eyes his girls. This male feast generally excludes females, except apparently as a matter of sexual interest.

Anat enters this story with the description of her savage battle against enemies (1.3 II). She is fighting on Baal’s behalf on the terrestrial level, while Baal fights against cosmic Sea. In this scene, she attacks human warriors; she is knee-deep gleaning in blood and gore (cf. Lam. 1:15; Joel 4:13 [E 3:13]; Rev. 14:14–20, 19:15; cf. Judg. 8:1–2, 20:44–46; Jer. 49:9; Obad. 5). She has hands and heads affixed to her waist as trophies, but is still unsatisfied. She takes her human captives to her palace, where she sets up tables and chairs for a feast; then she is satisfied as the feast there includes her captives as the main course. The cannibalistic feast here is a divine counterpart to the biblical notion of “devoted things” in warfare (e.g., Josh. 7:1); the corresponding Ugaritic term is applied to Anat’s battling in 1.13.2–7. Vestiges of this bloody, divine warfare appear in Yahweh’s battle against enemies (see Isa. 34:5–7, 49:25–26, and 63:1–6; see also Deut. 32:41–42; Pss. 58:10, 68:23; Ezek. 39:19).

In the second major part of the Baal Cycle (1.3 III–1.4 VII), Baal seeks to have a palace built in his honor as the pantheon’s new king. The process is stalled by his need to gain El’s consent for the construction project. The next three columns, (1.3 III–1.3 V) center on Baal’s effort to gain this permission by a first intercession attempted by his sister, Anat. 1.3 III–V relates Baal’s summons to Anat to his holy mountain (cf. Exod. 15:15–17), and her subsequent efforts to gain El’s permission for Baal’s palace. Baal then commissions Kothar to make a number of valuable furnishings (1.3 VI + 1.8–1.4 I) in order to induce Asherah to go to El on Baal’s behalf (1.4 II–III). This she does with great success (1.4 IV–V). With El’s permission granted, the building of the palace proceeds, culminating in its inauguration by a great feast celebrated by a multitudinous gathering of deities (1.4 VI). Baal then goes on a victory tour leading to the final addition to the palace, namely his window, which permits his theophanous, thunderous voice (1.4 VII). Baal is now recognized as divine king in heaven and on earth.

The third major section of the Baal Cycle (1.4 VIII–1.6) begins with Baal’s wish to extend his kingship to the underworld and its lord, Death (Mot). Baal’s initial communication with Death results in his rebuke of Baal (1.4 VIII–1.5 I). In this speech, Death mentions Baal’s evidently earlier defeat of enemies, known from the Bible as Leviathan and the seven-headed dragon (cf. Job 3:8, 7:12, 41:1; Ps. 74:14; Isa. 27:1). Baal’s decision to assert his kingship over the underworld proves foolhardy as his efforts result instead in his own descent to the underworld (1.5 II–VI). After learning of Baal’s death, Anat and El follow proper mourning and burial ritual (1.5 VI–1.6 I). Nominated to replace Baal, two minor gods (Athtar and Yd‘-ylhn) fail in their physical qualifications for kingship (1.6 I). This signals the reason why Baal is king: no other god can measure up. Thanks to Anat’s destruction of Death (1.6 II), Baal returns to life (1.6 III–IV), though he remains unable to defeat Death (1.6 V). Thanks to El’s intervention, Baal is able to retain his rule (1.6 VI). This conflict recalls biblical passages celebrating divine victory over death (see Isa. 25:8, echoed in Revelation 21:4, with vv. 1–4 offering a parallel to all three of the major episodes of the Baal Cycle). The Baal Cycle presents a view of divine kingship that offers prosperity and well-being on the divine, human, and natural levels, despite destructive forces in the universe; Baal’s fragile kingship stands under threat and needs help from a variety of deities. The Cycle offered a vision of kingship for a small though prosperous city-state, often standing in the shadow of great powers such as the Egyptians and the Hittites.14

2. Kirta (KTU 1.14–1.16)

At the outset of this story, Kirta loses his wife and children (1.14 I), as suggested by his name (*krt, “to cut”), much like the figure of Job in Job 1–2. Kirta then laments to his personal god El that he needs an heir (cf. Absalom’s lack of an heir in 2 Samuel 18:18). In a dream vision (1.14 I), El asks him what he wants (cf. Solomon’s dream in 1 Kings 3:5–15), and the god instructs him to go on a military march to besiege the city of Udm (1.14 II–III). Kirta follows El’s directions virtually to the letter (1.14 III), except for a stop at the sanctuary of Asherah of Tyre and Sidon, where the king offers a vow to the goddess in exchange for her help. After completing his march and siege (1.14 IV–V), Kirta gains the object of his quest, the daughter of the king of Udm. Thus, Kirta is able to reestablish his royal family, celebrated at a wedding feast attended by several deities and blessed by El (1.15 I–III).

After the feast, Asherah remembers Kirta’s unpaid vow made to her, evidently the cause of his subsequent illness (1.15 IV–VI; cf. the illness of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20 and Isaiah 38). When his son and daughter learn of his condition, they come to him in lamentation (1.16 I–II). His dutiful daughter asks if the king is a son of El and can really die. Here the paradox of kingship captures both the ideal that the dynasty and its king ideally last forever and the reality that every king is ultimately mortal. The king’s illness is not only a political problem; it also leads to agricultural infertility (1.16 III). The crisis induces the divine council to meet (1.16 IV), where El invites the gods to expel the illness (1.16 V). When no deity responds, El himself creates an expeller who flies to Kirta’s palace and dispels the illness.

The third challenge to Kirta’s kingship involves his son’s rebellion (1.16 VI; cf. Absalom’s rebellion against David in 2 Samuel 15–20). Kirta’s son claims that during his illness he has ignored his royal responsibility to adjudicate the case of the widow, the poor, and the orphan. In the story’s closing lines, Kirta curses his son. In sum, the story of Kirta relates three paradigmatic challenges to kingship: the need for an heir, illness, and rebellion. Aided by the divine world, Kirta is able to overcome all three challenges.15

3. Aqhat (KTU 1.17–1.19)

The story opens with the patriarch and hero Danil (cf. Daniel in Ezek. 14:14, 20, and 28:3, from whom Daniel of the book of Daniel takes his name). Danil laments that he has no son to perform the traditional filial duties (1.17 I). Moved to compassion, Danil’s personal god, Baal, takes his case to El, who blesses Danil (1.17 II). After Danil learns the news, divine help arrives in the form of the Kotharat, goddesses who aid in conception. The illegible columns (1.17 III–IV) perhaps relate the birth and youth of the new son, for when the story resumes (1.17 V), Danil is hearing the cases of the widow and the orphan and receives the craftsman-god, Kothar, who gives him a bow and arrows. Danil gives the weapons to his son, Aqhat, and commands him to give the first of his hunt to the temple. While Anat feasts, evidently at her temple (1.17 VI), she sees Aqhat and his bow. Perhaps expecting the weapons as a votive gift rather than the first of the hunt, she offers silver and gold in exchange; he suggests that she have Kothar make her own. She offers him eternal life; he refuses, claiming the offer is a lie; death is the fate of all mortals. He evidently oversteps in his response in suggesting that hunting is not for women since it most certainly is not so for the goddess Anat (see KTU 1.114). Anat laughs at him and threatens him. She travels to El whom she threatens with violence; El acquiesces to her request (1.18 I). After two lost columns (1.18 II–III), Anat tells her warrior, Ytpn, how the two of them will execute Aqhat (1.18 IV). Anat flies among a flock of vultures and releases Ytpn to strike Aqhat on the head. She then weeps for the dead Aqhat.

A drought ensues, and Danil notes the failing vegetation. Vultures circle above, and Pughat, Danil’s daughter and Aqhat’s sister, weeps. Lamenting the father fears the lack of precipitation: “no dew, no rain, no upsurging of the deeps, no good voice of Baal.” Together father and daughter go to the fields to see their dessicated vegetation, when the news of Aqhat’s death arrives (1.19 II). On hearing the report, Danil expresses the wish that the bird that feasted on his son’s corpse would give it up (1.19 III). Upon recovering the body from the bird, he buries it, and proceeds to curse the place where the lethal attack took place. The patriarch returns home to lament his son with weepers for seven years (1.19 IV). In the seventh year, he sends them off and offers a meal for the gods. At this point, Pughat presents herself to her father to ask for his blessing to avenge her brother’s death. After cleaning herself, she dons “a hero’s outfit” under her “woman’s outfit.” She goes to Ytpn’s military camp, where he greets her and invites her to drink. The story then breaks off, leading to speculation that a fourth tablet would have described how Pughat succeeded and avenged her brother’s death by killing Ytpn (cf. Judith’s killing of the enemy general Holofernes in Judith 13 and Jael’s attack on Sisera in Judges 4–5).

Rituals and interactions with deities predominate in Aqhat. The story’s opening highlights the proper roles of the son, and the closing stresses the proper role of the daughter, as well as the rituals undertaken by the father. The story has no mother; its world focuses on the hero patriarch, the would-be hero son, and the unexpectedly heroic daughter. The father has become a model elder in the society while the younger male figure fails to complete his transition as a warrior into adulthood. The two figures reflect the successful and unsuccessful sides of life for warriors; the daughter in her victory is the traditional exception in her warrior-role.16

4. The Rephaim Texts (KTU 1.20–1.22)

These fragments have been thought by some scholars to be a sequel to the story of Aqhat, since they mention Danil and they are concerned with the Rephaim, deceased warrior heroes of old (named also in the royal funerary text, 1.161, discussed below; see also the Rephaim in Isaiah 14:9; 1 Samuel 28). The Rephaim are invited to attend an elaborate feast. The Rephaim travel on chariots to reach the threshing floor, where they are to be fed. There they enjoy a magnificent banquet.17

Rituals and Related Texts

The sacrificial cult of Ugarit presents the king as the principal ritual actor, along with priests (khnm, the same term as in Hebrew) as well as “holy ones” (see also 4.752). The sacrificial cult is lunar in its overall calendrical reckoning. One ritual (1.41/1.87) includes offerings for the beginning of fall corresponding to the Israelite fall New Year and festival of Booths or Tabernacles. In one section, there are to be dwellings of branches where sacrifices are offered to a deity. A single-day royal offering (1.115) includes the instruction that “a woman/women may eat of it.” This additional notation, otherwise unknown, would suggest that women did not generally partake in eating ritual offerings. Another ritual (1.162) includes an offering of a shield (cf. the dedication of Saul’s weapons in Astarte’s temple in 1 Sam. 31:10). Three texts focus on a royal ritual of seeing or contemplation (1.90, 1.164, 1.168), perhaps parallel to the biblical idea of “seeing” God in a sanctuary context (e.g., Pss. 11:7, 17:15, 42:3, 63:2).

The rituals include one (1.40) concerned with the uprightness, adjudication of sin, and national unity, offered on behalf of the oppressed and impoverished as well as foreigners. A number of Ugaritic terms correspond to biblical names for offerings: peace-offering (the same term as biblical sacrifice of “well-being,” as in Lev. 3:1); “burnt offering” (Lev. 1:3) and “elevation offering” (Num. 8:11–15, 20, 18:11, etc.); these texts also use the general term for “sacrifice” found in Hebrew. The problem of sin in KTU 1.40 is a regular concern in the biblical material, but, unlike the biblical ritual texts, the Ugaritic rituals do not refer to expiation or cleansing (see, however, atonement mentioned along with sin in the Ugaritic letter, 2.72). Unlike biblical ritual, the Ugaritic texts lack references to the blood and fat of sacrifices, as well as incense. As in the Bible, there is no sacrifice of wild animals, dogs, or pigs. There is also no clear reference to child sacrifice at Ugarit. The requirements for bodily purity are similar in the biblical and Ugaritic rituals. There is no celebration of “fertility cult” as understood by earlier generations of scholars. One text (1.132) may possibly allude to “sacred marriage,” but no sexual relations are actually mentioned. The Ugaritic rituals mention garments to be worn by priests or deities or both; priestly garments are well known in the Bible, garments for deities less so (cf. “weaving for Asherah,” 2 Kings 23:7; and see also the listing of material for deities in KTU 4.182). As in ritual texts in the Bible, prayers are relatively rare in the ritual texts (see 1.119 and perhaps 1.127). The deity-lists (KTU 1.65, 1.74, 1.102, 1.148) are apparently tied to the sacrificial cult, as they order names of deities as found in ritual texts. Typically the number of deities listed comes to about 33. These are evidently the main deities, as the total number of deities mentioned in rituals and related texts tallies to 234, with 178 specifically named as recipients of offerings.

A funerary ritual (KTU 1.161), set in poetic lines, summons two deceased kings of Ugarit as well as the ancient heroes of old, the Rephaim, known also from literary texts mentioned above. One of the ancient heroes named in this text is consulted in another text for healing (1.124). A third text (1.113) lists the dead kings of Ugarit, labeled as “divine” (cf. Ps. 45:8) on one side; the other side describes music played, apparently for the kings.

Descriptive rituals include ritual slaughter of animals in a rural context outside the city of Ugarit (KTU 1.79, 1.80; cf. Judges 6:19–24, 13:19). Royal rituals in the “sown” are indicated by the ritual instructions in 1.23 and by a listing of wine in 4.149.14–16.

Divination texts include practice texts, such as liver models (KTU 1.141–1.145, 1.155), a lung model report (1.127), a liver omen (1.155), dream omens (1.86), an astrological report (1.78) and lunar omens (1.163), as well as manuals for omens derived from a reading of the physical features of malformed animal and human fetuses (1.103 + 1.145, 1.140).

Medical literature includes hippiatric texts (KTU 1.71, 1.72, 1.85, 1.97). KTU 1.82, 1.100, and 1.107 are incantations against snakebites (cf. the healing from snakebites through the bronze serpent Nehushtan in Num. 21:8–9 and 2 Kings 18:4). KTU 9.435 is to protect against snakes and scorpions and also to ward off verbal attacks from enemies and sorcerers (cf. “sorcerer” in the list of proscribed specialists in Deut. 18:10–11). KTU 1.169 is to relieve impotency. Another text (1.114) provides a prescription for the effects of excessive intoxication, following a mythic narrative about the drunkenness of the god El. The mythic setting includes the god’s marzeah, known from other Ugaritic texts (e.g., a contract for this institution in 3.9) and two biblical texts (Amos 6:7; Jer. 16:5) as an upper-class male social institution. Incantations and magic at Ugarit have been the subjects of considerable study.18


The 113 letters (in KTU 2) record communication between a number of figures, most notably involving the royal family and other elite figures (such as “the chief of the priests” in 2.4, cf. biblical “chief priest”), as well as their servants. Occasionally, the communication is international in nature (2.20, 2.39; see also 2.72). Letters report a variety of domestic matters involving communication and shipping (2.37), as well as threats from enemies (2.33), battle (2.82), foreigners (2.30), the “sin” of an Amurrite princess married to the Ugaritic king (2.72), and perhaps plague (2.10). The letters contain some expressions familiar from the Bible, such as the ideas of a force (plague?) being “very strong like death” (2.10; cf. Song of Songs 8:6) or the “face” of the king shining on the sender (2.13 and 2.16, cf. the priestly blessing of Num. 6:24–26).

The letters usually name the sender and the recipient. They regularly request blessing of deities upon the recipient (see the list of deities from various places in 2.42). If the sender is inferior in social status, the sender is said to bow down before the recipient. Many letters relate a further message from the sender, before closing with a request to the recipient to send information as to her or his situation.

Legal Texts

The thirty-five texts labeled as legal texts (KTU 3) are broad in scope. They include: a record of disbursement of tribute from the Ugaritic king to his Hittite overlord (KTU 3.1); royal grants to individuals (KTU 3.2, 3.5; cf. RS 94.2965); records of guarantee made on behalf of one or more individuals (KTU 3.3, 3.7, 3.8); a record of “ransom” (*pdy, KTU 3.4; compare biblical redemption expressed by the verb *pdh, e.g., the Israelites’ redemption from Egypt in Deuteronomy 7:8 and 13:6; and the redemption of the Passover animal in Exodus 13:13–15); a legal contract protecting the head of the marzeah from any potential legal claims made against him by any of its members (KTU 3.9); and a legal list of funds owed (KTU 3.10). One legal record (KTU 3.12) records the manumission of a royal slave (cf. Exod. 21:2–6).

Some economic texts (KTU 4; see below) involve legal matters. KTU 4.172 and 4.266 record purchases of licenses to handle payments of customs duty, while 4.336 and 4.338 record the purchase of a trading concession (see also 2.36; cf. the problem of transit recalled in Judg. 5:6).

Economic Texts

The 872 texts in this category (KTU 4) largely list places, property and equipment, personnel and occupations, foodstuffs, metals and other goods. These records show a network of economic relations revolving around the royal administration. Some of these include those who eat at the “table” (4.13; cf. 2 Sam. 9:7; 1 Kings 5:7, 18:19; 2 Kings 2:7, 4:10, 25:29); singers, ship-builders, and archers (4.35; see also 4.66); ship crews (4.40) and ships (4.81); ploughmen (4.65); weapons (4.169); wine sold to shrines and individuals (4.219); silver given for “the cup of the gods” (4.280). Cultic matters play relatively little role in these texts (see 4.728, found in the House of the Hurrian Priest). Some lists (e.g., 4.102) show the social structure of families consisting of fathers, their wives and their children, as well as young men and women, probably retainers or servants. One (4.360) lists various family lineages as three heads of households, with their patriarchal lord called “Bull” (cf. the title of the god, El, “Bull El my Father” and Num. 23:22 and 24:8), along with his four daughters.

Scribal Exercises

These texts include partial or complete abecedaries: KTU 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 5.8, 5.12, 5.13, 5.16, 5.17, 5.19–5.21, 5.24, 5.25, 5.27, and 5.28. One text (5.14) lists the Ugaritic letters, each followed by an Akkadian syllabic sign (possibly standing for the Ugaritic letter-name). Other scribal exercises show the writing out of the letters (5.2, 5.15), lists of words beginning with the same letter of the alphabet (5.1) or written with the same word (5.3), as well as personal names (5.7, 5.18, 5.22). Two texts show the scribal practice of correspondence (5.10, 5.11), while a third (5.9) combines a practice letter with an abecedary and a number of consonants. In addition to the texts in this section of KTU, other texts are thought by KTU’s editors to be scribal exercises (e.g., 1.9, 1.13, 1.67, 1.69, 1.71, 1.73, 1.133).

Inscriptions on Seals, Labels, Ivories, and Other Objects

The 107 texts placed in this category (KTU 6) are mostly short inscriptions made on items, some indicating their ownership. Some axes (6.6–6.10) are inscribed with the title, “chief of the priests” (see above). Two standing steles (KTU 6.13, 6.14) have inscriptions marking the steles as mortuary offerings on behalf of their donor (cf. 2 Sam. 18:18; for the sort of mortuary offering, cf. Lev. 26:30 and Ezek. 43:7). One inscription appears on the lion head on a rhyton dedicated to the god, Resheph (6.62).

Language and Poetry

The preceding summary mentions many biblical parallels for the Ugaritic texts mentioned. These do not fully convey the literary and religious parallels with biblical literature. The following discussion begins with language and poetry, and then turns to the gods and goddesses of Ugarit and ancient Israel.

The local language of Ugarit is closely related to biblical Hebrew and other ancient languages of the region, including Phoenician and Aramaic. The twenty-seven consonants of Ugaritic match closely to other Semitic languages such as Arabic (Aramaic, Hebrew, and Phoenician have twenty-two to twenty-three consonants). The grammar and vocabulary of Ugaritic likewise correspond closely with Phoenician and Hebrew. Like most documents written in those languages, the Ugaritic texts were written almost entirely without vowels, like texts written in modern Hebrew and Arabic.

The poetic techniques used by the ancient authors of the Ugaritic texts have much in common with those employed in the Bible.19 As in biblical poetry, the chief formal characteristic of Ugaritic verse consists of matching lines (what scholars often call parallelism), a characteristic not lost in translation. A parallelistic unit typically consists of two or three lines (called a bicolon or a tricolon). They often match in terms of meaning (what scholars call “synonymous parallelism”), as in the following lines:

  • Let me tell you, Prince Baal,
  • let me repeat, Rider on the Clouds:
  • Now, your enemy, Baal,
  • now you will kill your enemy,
  • now you will annihilate your foe.
  • You will take your eternal kingship,
  • your dominion forever and ever.

This speech consists of a tricolon framed by two bicola; each is marked by repetitive and synonymous parallelism. Not only the technique but the lines themselves are familiar from the Hebrew Bible:

  • Behold your enemies, Yahweh,
  • behold, your enemies perish,
  • all evildoers are scattered. (Psalm 92:9 [Hebrew 92:10])
  • Your kingship is an eternal kingship,
  • your dominion is forever and ever. (Psalm 145:13)

This similarity in style and formula is not surprising, given the shared tradition of Ugaritic and Israelite poets.

Synonymous parallelism may cause some puzzlement, as in the divine command to Kirta:

  • Take a lamb in your hand,
  • a sacrificial lamb in your right hand,
  • a young animal in both your hands.

A literal reading of this poetic unit might lead readers to think that the hero is to handle three animals at once. However, the parallelism is impressionistic, not cumulative, and only one lamb is in question.

The use of numbers in parallelism may also be confusing. The synonym for any number (x) is the next higher unit (x + 1). The favorite numbers used in this way are three and four, seven and eight, and one thousand and ten thousand; ten thousand is the next unit after one thousand. Extended use of this technique is found in Proverbs 30:18–31 and Amos 1:3–2:8, and individual examples in both Ugaritic and biblical poetry are too numerous to catalog here.

Also characteristic of Ugaritic poetry is the use of epithets; such titles are common in the Iliad and the Odyssey as well. Thus, Baal is often called “the Rider on the Clouds” (compare the designation of Zeus as “the Cloud-gatherer”) or “Dagan’s son”; Sea is given the parallel titles “Prince Sea” and “Judge River”; El is “the Kind, the Compassionate,” “the Bull,” “the Father of Time,” and “the Father of Humanity” (see The Odyssey 1.28); and Danil is regularly described as “the Hero.” There are standard descriptions of banquets and journeys, the saddling of a donkey for riding, the offering of a sacrifice, and the arrival of a deity at El’s home. Such often-repeated formulas may seem like clichés, but it should be kept in mind that ancient audiences, whether Ugaritic or Greek, heard such texts rather than read them. Repetition organized the narrative for audiences, and it also provided a canvas for presenting occasional dramatic departure from expected norms of storytelling.

There are also many common motifs, such as the measurement of time in periods of seven days or seven years. This occurs five times in the story of Aqhat, as well as elsewhere in the texts. One application of the seven-year formula is to alternating periods of plenty and famine, as in Pharaoh’s dream in the biblical story of Joseph (Gen. 41:26–32); the same motif is found in Egyptian and Mesopotamian sources. In the Baal Cycle, Baal’s victory over Death extended for seven years, during which the land was productive. Throughout a corresponding seven-year cycle the forces of sterility prevailed over the storm god, as Danil’s curse implies:

  • For seven years Baal may fail,
  • eight, the Rider on the Clouds:
  • no dew, no showers,
  • no surging of the two seas,
  • no benefit of Baal’s voice.

For the alternation of famine and plenty the entire seven-year period was significant; in other instances the emphasis is on the seventh day or year itself. Thus, it was on the seventh day of Danil’s incubation rite in the temple that Baal intercedes for him and El blesses him, just as it is on the seventh day that God called to Moses on the cloud-covered mountain (Exod. 24:16). Similarly, only on the seventh day of the Kotharats’ ritual in the story of Aqhat did Danil and his wife succeed in conceiving a son; one of the themes of the first account of creation in the Bible is the importance of the seventh day, the Sabbath; and, in a final dramatic example, the fall of Jericho occurred on the seventh day after seven priests with seven trumpets marched seven times around the city (Josh. 6:12–20). Seven days is the standard length of a journey (Kirta, tablet 1; Gen. 31:23) and of a wedding feast (Judg. 14:12); the firing of Baal’s palace takes a week as well. In these and other examples it is difficult to see more than literary convention in the choice of seven. But the alteration of the traditional mourning period from seven days (as in Job 2:13) to seven years after Aqhat’s murder is a dramatic one.

As this examination of parallelism, epithets, and formulas illustrates, ancient poets, whether Ugaritic or Israelite, were conventional.20 So were literary type scenes as noted above with the divine council scene in both the Baal Cycle and Psalm 82. Traditional techniques and motifs were preserved, with modifications, for at least a millennium. Yet the Israelites’ indebtedness to their predecessors was not merely linguistic and literary.

Gods and Goddesses of Ugarit and Ancient Israel

Despite biblical prohibitions against other gods and goddesses, the Bible contains many references to many deities known also in the Ugaritic texts. The Bible’s references suggest that despite its proscriptions, other deities were worshipped by Israelites. These deities are often major characters in the Ugaritic stories, and they are the focus of many other texts, especially rituals, not to mention architectural remains and religious art. Here is a brief introduction to the Ugaritic pantheon that draws on various sources.21

The presiding head of the pantheon was El as his titles, “the King” and “the Father of Gods,” indicate. In the lists of deities and of the offerings made to them, El generally precedes the other major gods. El’s name is a common noun meaning “god.” Its precise etymology is uncertain: two major theories derive it from roots meaning “strong” and “first.” In his role as head of the pantheon, El is attested elsewhere. Compare, for example, the Arabic cognate “Allah,” which literally means “the god” or simply “God”; the epithets “the Merciful” and “the Kind” used of Allah are strikingly close to the Ugaritic designations of El as “the Kind, the Compassionate.” The home of El, “the Creator of Creatures,” is a mountain from whose base flow the two rivers that are the source of all fresh water in the world. In Ugaritic art, El is depicted as a bearded patriarchal figure. His behavior at a drinking feast, as described in one tablet, is hardly dignified.

One of the issues connected with El is how to assess his importance in Ugaritic religion. In the Baal Cycle, Baal becomes king of the pantheon, expressed in his boast, “I alone rule over the gods.” This claim is echoed by the goddesses Anat and Asherah. Yet in the surviving stories El is not an impotent ruler. It is he, and no other god, who can cure Kirta; it is he to whom Baal turns for help for Danil and whose permission Anat requests to take her revenge on Aqhat; and, significantly, it is he who sides against Death in Baal’s favor. While El was the presiding head of the pantheon, and active in stories such as Aqhat and Kirta, Baal is likewise an important god, and the Baal Cycle perhaps reflects this view. There seems to be a sort of co-regency between El as the executive power and Baal as the military power in the cosmos.

Baal,whose name means “lord,” is the Ugaritic warrior god, a storm-god whose rains generate agricultural fertility and whose lightning and thunder may terrify enemies. He is also the city’s divine patron, as expressed by his title “Lord of Ugarit.” One of the two large temples discovered at Ras Shamra is dedicated to him. Baal’s home is on Mount Sapan (Saphon in Hebrew), a high peak north of Ugarit that is likely the modern Mount Aqra, and is visible from Ras Shamra. Mount Sapan itself had divine status, as Baal conveys in his invitation to Anat in the Baal Cycle: “Come, and I will reveal it: in the midst of my mountain, divine Sapan.” Baal is depicted on a stela from Ras Shamra with a club in one hand and a lightning bolt in the other, and in the texts he is often given the accouterments of a storm—clouds, wind, and rain.

Three goddesses appear regularly in the stories: Astarte, mentioned mostly in passing, Asherah, and Anat (the meanings of their names are debated). The latter two have significant though not dominant roles in the myths, for Ugaritic religious thought, like Ugaritic society, was patriarchal. Asherah is El’s consort and the mother of the gods. The only goddess with a vivid character is Anat.22 She is Baal’s sister, and is closely identified with him as a successful opponent of Sea, Death, and other destructive powers. Her fierce temper is directed against gods and mortals alike. With her thirst for violence and her macabre trappings—a necklace of human heads, a belt of human hands—Anat resembles the Hindu goddess Kali.

The craftsman of the gods, Kothar-wa-Hasis, whose double-name means “skillful and wise,” was thought to live far away, either in Crete to the west or in Egypt to the south. This corresponds to a dependence on foreign artisans for both inspiration and execution. Mycenaean painted pottery was discovered at Ugarit, but the most significant source of motifs in the local art was Egyptian. Like Hephaestus, the divine craftsman of the Greek pantheon, Kothar is a master artisan whose skill provides the gods—and occasionally chosen mortals—with weapons and palaces, but unlike his Greek counterpart he also offers prophetic words and divinatory spells.

Finally, Mot (death), Baal’s adversary and antithesis, embodies the forces of sterility and drought. The Levantine landscape is divided into three general areas along its eastern and southern borders: the arable land; semi-desert, the territory where nomads graze their flocks of sheep and goats; and the desert itself. This last is Death’s domain, and the “desert pasture” in front of it is “Death’s shore.” His underworld home could be reached by raising the two mountains that block its entrance. The underworld is a damp, watery place called “the Swamp,” “the Pit,” and “Filth.” Another of its designations, “isolation ward,” is used for a leprosarium in 2 Kings 15:5.

As a group, the Ugaritic gods and goddesses are larger than life. Deities embody realities beyond human understanding and control: the overarching cosmic order; the storms necessary for prosperity and survival, the powerful drives of sex and violence, and the final mystery of death. The gods and goddesses belong to a divine society that corresponds to society on earth; for example, both share the patriarchal institution of kingship. The stories relate how deities and humans struggle with a range of problems, and thus express hope for the present and future.

The Religion of Ugarit and Ancient Israel

Until the discovery of Ugarit, the sources for the study of the religion of what the Bible polemically calls “the Canaanites” were both sketchy and late. There were distorted and fragmentary accounts in classical Greek and Roman authors and in some early Christian apologists; there were also dedicatory and funerary inscriptions of the Phoenicians and of their Punic cousins in western North Africa. Even when this literary evidence was synthesized with archaeological remains (such as figurines and statues, the temples and shrines), it was impossible to reconstruct a coherent account of what the local people believed. The discovery of Ugarit and its thousands of texts has provided an extensive and primary source for the study of local religion. At the same time they deepen modern understanding of the Hebrew Bible, for the Ugaritic tablets are the best available witness to the background from which the religion of ancient Israel emerged, and to the beliefs that it shared, adopted, compromised with, and sometimes rejected.

One way to illuminate this relationship between Ugarit and Israel is to return to the principal Ugaritic deities and to examine their biblical analogues.23 The head of the Ugaritic pantheon, El, also appears in the Bible. His name (and its variant Elohim) is generally used as a term for God, but in a few passages it serves as a proper name. Thus, Psalm 82 begins: “God [Elohim] has taken his place in the Assembly of El, in the midst of the gods [elohim] he holds judgment.” Similarly, Isaiah 14:13 (although in a polemical context) speaks of the “stars of El,” and Deuteronomy 32:8 (following the reading of a Dead Sea scroll and the Greek text) of the “sons of El.” In Exodus 6:2–3 a distinction is made between earlier and later names of the god of Israel: “God [Elohim] spoke to Moses, and he said to him: ‘I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shadday, but by my name, Yahweh, I was not known to them.’” The title “El Shadday,” often mistranslated “God Almighty,” means “El of the Mountain,” or “El, the One of the Mountain.” In the Ugaritic texts El lived at the “cosmic mountain” that was the source of fresh water, and the biblical epithet reflects this mythology. Moreover, like El, the god of Israel presided over the assembly of the gods, as in 1 Kings 22:19 and Job 1–2.

Other titles of El in the Ugaritic texts also have echoes in the Bible. Thus, in Genesis 21:33, Yahweh is styled “El, the Eternal One,” similar to El’s title “the Father of Time.” The phrase “the Mighty One of Jacob” (Gen. 49:24 etc.) should probably be rendered “the Bull of Jacob,” recalling El’s identification as “the Bull.” The liturgical phrase “Yahweh, Yahweh, a merciful and gracious god [el], slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod. 34:6 etc.), is a variant of “El the Kind, the Compassionate.”

The popularity of the worship of Baal in Israel is illustrated both by repeated attacks on it by biblical writers and by the use of Baal as an element in personal names. Among others, Saul and David gave their children names containing Baal (an example is Baalyada’, meaning “Baal knows”). As with the name of El, which may also mean “god,” Baal also means “lord,” and so this word does not always refer to the god. One reason for Baal’s appeal for the Israelites is that many of Yahweh’s characteristics and much of the language used to describe him either resemble Baal’s nature or were derived from him. Both gods are called “Rider on the Clouds” (or the like; see Yahweh in Ps. 68:4), and Yahweh in Psalm 29 is remarkably similar to Baal in the Baal Cycle.24 Like Baal, Yahweh was the victorious warrior who had shown his mastery over the sea; like Baal, Yahweh revealed himself on a mountain in the midst of a storm; like Baal, Yahweh had a temple built of cedar.

Parallels with Baal extend to the motif of the mountain where Yahweh revealed himself. The primary mountain of revelation was Sinai; when Yahweh appeared, “there was thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain. … And Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because Yahweh had descended upon it in fire. … And the whole mountain trembled violently” (Exod. 19:16–18). The same imagery is used of Baal’s theophany:

  • Then Baal opened a break in the clouds,
  • Baal sounded his holy voice,
  • Baal thundered from his lips …
  • The earth’s high places shook.

The association of Yahweh as storm god is echoed in Judges 5:4–5:

  • Yahweh, when you went out from Seir,
  • when you marched from the highland of Edom,
  • the earth shook,
  • and the heavens, too, streamed,
  • and the clouds streamed with water;
  • the mountains shook
  • before Yahweh, the one of Sinai,
  • before Yahweh, the god of Israel.

The other mountain central to Israel’s theology was Mount Zion. Jerusalem had been a center of El worship, as Genesis 14:18–24 illustrates: there Melchizedek was a priest of El Most High (El Elyon). Like the mountain of El in the Ugaritic texts, Zion was, especially in apocalyptic vision, the source of fresh water: “On that day living waters will go out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea, half of them to the western sea, both in summer and in winter” (Zech. 14:8). This theme recurs in Ezekiel 47:1–12, Joel 3:17–18, and Revelation 22:1–2.

But just as elements associated with El and Baal appear in the figure of Yahweh, so too Zion became identified with Saphon, the name of Baal’s mountain just north of the city of Ugarit:

  • His holy mountain, beautiful in height,
  • joy of all the earth;
  • Mount Zion, in the recesses of Saphon,
  • city of the great king. (Ps. 48:2–3; see also Ps. 50:2-3)

The descriptions of El and Baal as well as their homes find strong resonances in the figure of Yahweh, despite some notable differences. For example, Yahweh’s southern home in Seir and Edom in Judges 5:4–5 quoted above, and the tradition of the Exodus from Egypt.

Turning to other deities, there are traces of Anat, Asherah, and Astarte in the Hebrew Bible. Anat is the least well attested, occurring only in the place names Beth-anath and Anathoth and in the personal name Shamgar Ben-Anath (Judg. 3:31 and 5:6). In the Bible, most scholars detect the goddess Asherah in 2 Kings 21:7 and 23:4, 6–7. In biblical Hebrew the word asherah is also a common noun, meaning a sacred tree or pole used in the goddess’s worship. The asherah, arguably the symbol of the goddess by the same name, is implicitly associated with Yahweh. The Bible prohibits this form of worship of Yahweh: “You shall not set up an asherah of any wood next to the altar of Yahweh your god” (Deut. 16:21). Because of its disapproval of asherah, the Bible sometimes associates her name with the god considered to be the divine epitome of idolatry, Baal himself (1 Kings 18:19). Astarte also occurs in the Bible, but, as in extant Ugaritic sources, little light is shed on her personality. She is called “the goddess” or “the abomination of the Sidonians” (see 1 Kings 11:5).

The deity Mot (Death) is only occasionally mentioned in the Bible. As in the Ugaritic texts, his appetite is proverbial and his presence is life-threatening (Jer. 9:21). His home in the underworld is a palace fitted with gates (Job 38:17). In Isaiah 25:8, it is said that at the eschatological victory banquet Yahweh “will swallow up Death forever”; this is a reversal of the scene in Baal when the storm god goes down into Death’s mouth, to be crushed like a kid in his jaws.

As this overview shows, literary and religious motifs found in the Ugaritic texts permeate the Bible. The same larger set of literary conventions and motifs, not to mention their religious content, appear in both Ugaritic and biblical literature.


Almost all areas of research about Ugaritic and biblical literature continue to be subjects of scholarly research and discussion. The origins of the West Semitic alphabet in general and the origins of the Ugaritic alphabet in particular, remain debated matters.25 The nature of imagery in Ugaritic literature is a matter raised by Pardee.26 The nature of scribal practice and learning in the Levant has entailed a major set of questions about the circulation of literary texts as oral literature and their relation to scribal production and the degree of scribal memorization in the transmission of texts.27 It is commonly thought that the written forms of the literary texts represent oral traditions that may go back centuries or more.28 For example, the Ugaritic traditions about the storm-god Baal are now known to go back at least to the 18th century bce, now known thanks to the discovery of Mari texts of this time that allude to the storm-god’s battle against the Sea. The circulation of this tradition is not only quite old but also quite wide over the Levant. How did this transmission take place?

These questions are related to the issue about the degree of familiarity that early Israelite writers had with the classics of Ugaritic literature. On the one hand, the many similarities between Ugaritic and biblical literature have been thought to indicate that Israelite authors knew copies of the Ugaritic classic texts.29 On the other hand, the destruction of Ugarit c. 1175 as well as the site’s distance from Israel and Judah seems to cast doubt on this scenario. In either case, it remains a question how the many traditions known in the Ugaritic texts made their way into the biblical corpus. Rather than being a matter of direct influence, it would appear given what is known from yet other sources in the region that many of the shared traditions of Ugaritic and the Hebrew Bible were more broadly known across the Levant. Thus the biblical corpus need not reflect Ugaritic literature directly, but may represent a broader fund of literary and religious traditions known up and down the eastern Mediterranean coast and inland. It is notable in this regard that both the Ugaritic texts and the Hebrew Bible seem to know independently something of the same Transjordanian traditions about the Rephaim.

Finally, many issues about religious history remain unresolved. The relationships of Yahweh to El and to Baal remain unclear, especially as scholars have only the remains of the day and not the sorts of texts that indicate religious processes as such. For many scholars, Yahweh was originally a storm-god like Baal and acquired additional features of Baal as well as the identity of El. Other scholars have suggested that Yahweh was a title of El and this Yahweh-El acquired Baal’s characteristics. It has even been suggested that Yahweh was originally an inland god of the desert like Athtar and secondarily acquired features from both El and Baal. The relationship of Yahweh to various goddesses is likewise a subject of ongoing discussion, since Yahweh is associated with the asherah symbol; additionally for many scholars, the goddess was Yahweh’s consort. Anat, too, is an interesting case, as her imagery of bloody battle apparently accrued to Yahweh, despite the apparent lack of her cult for the greater part of Israel’s religious history. Athtart (Astarte) likewise has an unclear religious history in Israel. Her name is known best in polemics against deities considered to be non-Israelite (e.g., Ashtaroth in Judg. 2:13, but see the Asheroth in Judg. 3:7) and perhaps informs the Queen of Heaven (Jer. 7:18 and 44:17–19, 25). Other deities known from the Ugaritic texts belong to the landscape of Israelite religion.

While Israelite polytheism has been recognized, its degree and configuration remains under discussion. Similarly, the nature of family and clan religion relative to the religious practices of temple and national centers is a subject of intense scholarly interest for both Ugarit and ancient Israel. In the past, the Ugaritic texts largely served as a primary source for understanding “the Canaanites,” a people known in the Bible as Israel’s idolatrous enemy. Thus the Ugaritic texts, especially in its representation of polytheism, provided a negative foil to the monotheistic faith of Israel. In recent years both polytheism and monotheism have come in for serious scholarly review.30 On the one hand, the monotheism of the Bible has come to be understood as a feature that was not original to Israel. Otherwise, why would Exodus 15:11 refer to other gods in praise of God or why the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 5:7 refer to “other gods” as if they existed (“you shall have no other gods before me”)? Thus, Israel’s “monotheism” or “one-god discourse” emerged in the mid-1st millennium, probably in response to not only internal circumstances within Israel and Judah, but also in response to religious developments in Mesopotamia, including its own forms of “one-god discourse.”31 On the other hand, polytheism has come to be seen to have its own monism; in other words there are social and political concepts that understand its polytheism in terms of a single unit. The notions of the divine family and divine council headed by El served as “mono-theistic” discourses in Ugaritic literature.32 The very nature of theism in the ancient world is undergoing considerable re-evaluation, which includes both Ugaritic and biblical literature.

Primary Sources

The main collection of Ugaritic texts in English transliteration is Die keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani und anderen Orten. The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places (KTU).33

The single most accessible collection of myths and epics is Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith, Stories from Ancient Canaan. Also highly recommended is the translation of Dennis Pardee in The Context of Scripture.34 A further resource for myths and epics is a volume with English translation and transliteration of the Ugaritic text on facing pages, edited by Simon B. Parker.35

The single best collection of rituals and related texts is Dennis Pardee, Ritual and Cult at Ugarit.36 Pardee also has an important, more technical treatment of rituals in his two-volume work, Les textes rituels.37

There is no single collection of Ugaritic letters in translation. Many letters are presented by Dennis Pardee, in The Context of Scripture.38 The bulk of the letters were treated in French translation by Jesús-Luis Cunchillos, in André Caquot, Jean-Michel de Tarragon and Jesús-Luis Cunchillos, Textes ougaritiques: Tome II. Textes religieux et rituels, correspondence.39 Similarly, there is no single collection for the juridical texts. The economic texts have been conveniently collected in Kevin M. McGeough, Ugaritic Economic Tablets: Text, Translation and Notes.40 The other texts have not been collected in translations.

Many aspects of ancient Ugarit are addressed by Handbook of Ugaritic Studies.41 The standard resource on gods and goddesses is Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible DDD.42 Readers interested in the history of Ugaritic and biblical studies may consult Mark S. Smith, Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the Twentieth Century.43 Many relevant studies have appeared in the journal, Ugarit-Forschungen.

Further Reading

Bordreuil, Pierre, and Dennis Pardee. A Manual of Ugaritic. Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic 3. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009.Find this resource:

Clifford, Richard J. The Cosmic Mountain in Canaan and the Old Testament. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.Find this resource:

Coogan, Michael D., and Mark S. Smith. Stories from Ancient Canaan. 2d ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012.Find this resource:

Cross, Frank Moore. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973.Find this resource:

Day, John. God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea: Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.Find this resource:

Day, John. Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Fitzgerald Aloysius, F. S. C. The Lord of the East Wind. Washington, DC: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 2002.Find this resource:

Greenstein, Edward L. “Texts from Ugarit Solve Biblical Puzzles.” Biblical Archaeology Review 36.6 (2010): 48–53.Find this resource:

Kloos, Carol J. L. Yhwh’s Combat with the Sea: A Canaanite Tradition in the Religion of Ancient Israel. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1986.Find this resource:

Korpel, Marjo C. A. A Rift in the Clouds: Ugaritic and Hebrew Descriptions of the Divine. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1989.Find this resource:

Lewis, Theodore J. Cults of the Dead in Ancient Israel and Ugarit. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.Find this resource:

Miller, Patrick D., Jr. The Divine Warrior in Early Israel. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973.Find this resource:

McLaughlin, John L. The Marzēah in the Prophetic Literature: References and Allusions in Light of the Extra-Biblical Evidence. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2001.Find this resource:

del Olmo Lete, Gregorio. Incantations and Anti-Witchcraft Texts from Ugarit. With a contribution by Ignacio Márquez Rowe. Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Records 4. Boston and Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2014.Find this resource:

Page, Hugh R., Jr. The Myth of Cosmic Rebellion: A Study of Its Reflexes in Ugaritic and Biblical Literature. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1996.Find this resource:

Pardee, Dennis. The Ugaritic Texts and the Origins of West-Semitic Literary Composition. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Parker, Simon B. The Pre-Biblical Narrative Tradition: Essays on the Ugaritic Poems Keret and Aqhat. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.Find this resource:

Pitard, Wayne T. “Canaanite Literature.” In From an Antique Land: An Introduction to Ancient Near Eastern Literature. Edited by Carl S. Ehrlich, 255–311. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.Find this resource:

Smith, Mark S. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle: Volume 1. Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU 1.1-1.2. Vetus Testamentum Supplements 55. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994.Find this resource:

Smith, Mark S. The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Smith, Mark S. The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.Find this resource:

Smith, Mark S. “Biblical Narrative between Ugaritic and Akkadian Literature: Part I: Ugarit and the Hebrew Bible: Consideration of Recent Comparative Research.” Revue Biblique 114 (2007a): 5–29.Find this resource:

Smith, Mark S. “Biblical Narrative between Ugaritic and Akkadian Literature: Part II.” Revue Biblique 114 (2007b): 189–207.Find this resource:

Smith, Mark S. “Canaanite Backgrounds to the Psalms.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms. Edited William P. Brown, 43–56. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Smith, Mark S. Poetic Heroes: The Literary Commemoration of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World. Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2014.Find this resource:

Smith, Mark S., and Wayne T. Pitard. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle: Volume 2. Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU 1.3-1.4. Vetus Testament Supplement 114. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008.Find this resource:

van der Toorn, Karel, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, eds. Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible DDD. 2d ed. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999.Find this resource:

Walls, Neal H., Jr. The Goddess Anat in the Ugaritic Myth. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992.Find this resource:


(1.) Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith, Stories from Ancient Canaan, 2d ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012), 1–5.

(2.) Pierre Bordreuil and Dennis Pardee, A Manuel of Ugaritic, Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic 3 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009), 8

(3.) Dennis Pardee, The Ugaritic Texts and the Origins of West-Semitic Literary Composition (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 11–12, 44–48.

(4.) Simon B. Parker, The Pre-Biblical Narrative Tradition: Essays on the Ugaritic Poems Keret and Aqhat. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.

(5.) Pardee, The Ugaritic Texts, 113–115.

(6.) Ibid., 115–122.

(7.) Parker, The Pre-Biblical Narrative Tradition, 70–98.

(8.) Pardee, The Ugaritic Texts, 115–122; Mark S. Smith, “Canaanite Backgrounds to the Psalms,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms, ed. William P. Brown, 43–56 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

(9.) Mark S. Smith, “Biblical Narrative between Ugaritic and Akkadian Literature: Part II,” Revue Biblique 114 (2007), 189–207.

(10.) Mark S. Smith, “Canaanite Backgrounds to the Psalms,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms, ed. William P. Brown (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 43.

(11.) John L. McLaughlin, The Marzēah in the Prophetic Literature: References and Allusions in Light of the Extra-Biblical Evidence (Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2001).

(12.) Mark S. Smith, Poetic Heroes: The Literary Commemoration of Warriors and Warrior Culture BiblicWorldBiblical World (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2014), 204–208.

(14.) Pardee, The Ugaritic Texts, 33–34, 50–61; Mark S. Smith, The Ugaritic Baal Cycle: Volume 1. Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU 1.1-1.2, Vetus Testamentum Supplements 55 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994); Mark S. Smith and Wayne T. Pitard, The Ugaritic Baal Cycle: Volume 2. Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU 1.3-1.4, Vetus Testament Supplement 114 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2008); Mark S. Smith, Poetic Heroes: The Literary Commemoration of Warriors and Warrior Culture in the Early Biblical World (Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2014), 162–182.

(15.) Parker, Pre-Biblical Narrative Tradition, 145–216.

(16.) Ibid., 99–144; Smith, Poetic Heroes, 99–136.

(17.) Theodore J. Lewis, Cults of the Dead in Ancient Israel and Ugarit (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989); Smith, Poetic Heroes, 137–161.

(18.) Gregorio del Olmo Lete, Incantations and Anti-Witchcraft Texts from Ugarit (Boston and Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2014).

(19.) Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith, Stories from Ancient Canaan, 2d ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012), 9–13; Pardee, The Ugaritic Texts, 80–91; Parker, Pre-Biblical Narrative Tradition, 7–59.

(20.) Parker, Pre-Biblical Narrative Tradition.

(21.) Coogan and Smith, Stories from Ancient Canaan. For more details, see Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, eds., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (DDD), 2d ed. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999.

(22.) Neal H. Walls Jr., The Goddess Anat in the Ugaritic Myth (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992).

(23.) Coogan and Smith, Stories from Ancient Canaan, 13–18. For more details, see Mark S Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002).

(24.) Pardee, The Ugaritic Texts, 96–101; Smith, “Canaanite Backgrounds to the Psalms,” 49–50.

(25.) Ibid., 1–14.

(26.) Ibid., 92–106.

(27.) Ibid., 41–50.

(28.) Ibid., 26–28.

(29.) Edward L. Greenstein, “Texts from Ugarit Solve Biblical Puzzles.” Biblical Archaeology Review 36.6 (2010), 48–53.

(30.) Mark S. Smith, The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

(31.) Ibid., 85–88, 165.

(32.) Ibid., 41–66.

(33.) Manfried Dietrich, Oswald Loretz, and Joaquín Sanmartín, ed., Die keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani und anderen Orten, 3d ed. (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2013).

(34.) W. W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, ed., The Context of Scripture, Vol. 1 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997), 241–283, 333–358.

(35.) Simon B. Parker, ed., Ugaritic Narrative Poetry (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997).

(36.) Theodore J. Lewis, ed., Ritual and Cult at Ugarit (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2002).

(37.) Dennis Pardee, Les textes rituels (Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, 2000).

(38.) W. W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, ed., The Context of Scripture, Vol. 3 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002), 87–116.

(39.) Textes ougaritiques: Tome II. Textes religieux et rituels (Paris: Cerf, 1989).

(40.) Kevin McGeough, Ugaritic Economic Tablets: Text, Translation and Notes, ed. Mark S. Smith (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2010).

(41.) W. G. E. Watson and N. Wyatt, ed., Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999).

(42.) Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, ed., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999).

(43.) Mark S. Smith, Untold Stories: The Bible and Ugaritic Studies in the Twentieth Century (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2001).